Writing Excuses Retreats: 2023 Scholarships

An image of Bear Lake, Utah beside an image of Alaska. On top of the images are the words, "Writing Excuses Retreats: 2023 Scholarships. Apply Now: Scholarships for Writers with Financial Need and Writers of Color. Submissions Due February 28, 2023"

WXR is back for the 2023 season! This year, we’re hosting two separate chances for writers to gather:

  • May 8-13, 2023: “Riding Excuses” workshop in Bear Lake, Utah. This 6-day retreat, hosted by Mary Robinette Kowal, Dan Wells, Mikki Helmer, and our dedicated trail guide, Montana, will include workshops, beautiful scenery, and dedicated writing time. You’ll get the tools and experiences you need to write about horses as accurately as possible for your fantasy, historical, and other fiction. To expand our animal curriculum even further, we will have a falconry expert visit us to give a live demonstration and answer questions. Click here for all of the details and registration information for the Bear Lake retreat.
  • September 3-11, 2023: Alaskan Cruise aboard the Quantum of the Seas. This year’s Writing Excuses cruise will provide the perfect blend of writing classes, critique groups, community building, and luxurious Alaskan vacation. This event will be hosted by Mary Robinette Kowal, Dan Wells, Howard Taylor, DongWon Song, Erin Roberts, and guest instructors Mahtab Narsimhan and Fonda Lee. Click here to register for the cruise.

As always, we are offering scholarship opportunities: two for Bear Lake and four for the Alaskan cruise. We have two different scholarship types available. Half of the scholarships for each event will be awarded to those in financial need (the “Out of Excuses” Scholarship), and half will be awarded to writers of color. 

Both categories have introduced us to some incredible writers in the past, and we can’t wait to see who we get to meet this year. Share this post with everyone you know, read the rules carefully, and apply!

Information and Entry Rules

Each scholarship offers full tuition, $500 of travel expenses, a bed in a shared room, and hotel expenses in the destination city for one night before the event. Because the food on each retreat is free, this covers essentially all your expenses for the week, though depending on the flights you arrange, you might need to cover some of the travel yourself.

You may apply to either scholarship, but you may only attend one of the retreats. If you have no preference on which you’d like to attend, your application can count for Bear Lake or the cruise.

These scholarships are very popular, and get a lot of applicants, so please read the instructions carefully and follow them exactly; incomplete applications will be disqualified.

Application Form

To apply, please prepare the following scholarship package (detailed below) and submit it via the google form.

Access the application form here

*Please make sure you review and upload all of the required documents prior to submitting the application.

Scholarship Documents

There will be two documents to upload as part of the application. Please attach them to the Google form upon submission.

Document #1: Personal Essay & Letters of Recommendation

This document should be sent as a PDF file saved as: [Name of Scholarship]-[Your Name]-essay. For example:

  • Out of Excuses Scholarship-Jane Doe-essay.pdf
  • Writer of Color Scholarship-John Doe-essay.pdf

Within the document, please include:

  • A Personal Essay (450-700 words)explaining why you are a good candidate for the scholarship. What makes you unique? What can you bring to our group that no one else can? Keep in mind that even as we focus on “need,” the panel will also be reviewing your writing in terms of “merit.”
  • Three Brief Letters of Recommendation (no more than 300 words each) from people who are not your relatives: friends, bosses, people from your writing group, or anyone who can tell us exactly how awesome you are.

Document #2: Writing Sample (1-3 pieces, limited to 5,000 words total)

This document should be sent as a document (.docx, .doc, or .rtf only) or PDF file, saved as: [Name of Scholarship]-[Your Name]-writing-sample. For example:

  • Out of Excuses Scholarship-Jane Doe-writing-sample.pdf
  • Writer of Color Scholarship-John Doe-writing-sample.pdf

Within the document, please include:

  • A brief example of your writing, consisting of 1-3 separate pieces and totaling no more than 5,000 words. These can be short stories or novel excerpts. Don’t feel obligated to fill the word count: if you can wow us in less, more power to you.

Again: make sure to send everything in one submission form or your application will be disqualified!

Please review your application several times or have a friend or family member review it for you, because we will reject applications on technicalities, just like an editor or publisher would. We would much prefer to read your awesome writing and give you a scholarship.

You may apply for the scholarship anytime between now and midnight PST, February 28th. We will contact the winners on March 30th and announce them officially on April 3rd**. 

You may apply for the scholarship anytime between now and midnight PST, February 28th. We will contact the winners on March 30th and announce them officially on April 3rd**.

If you have any questions regarding the scholarship, please email Dawn at writingxcuses@gmail.com.

*While at this time the Alaskan cruise retreat is not available to buy tickets for, we will be announcing ticket sales soon.

**Dates for the announcement of the scholarship may have some slight fluctuation. We will do our best to give the winners as much time as possible between the announcement and the start of the first retreat.

Scholarship FAQs

Q: What do the Letters of Recommendation need?

A: Think of this like a college entry application letter. Have your recommenders tell us why you are the best candidate for this scholarship. They can point out what they think might be relevant to the decision that the committee would otherwise not know. The letters help us round out the picture for each candidate.


Q: Do I need famous people or industry professionals to recommend me?

A: Absolutely not. The status or prestige of the recommenders is not really a factor; they can be international bestsellers or they can be college roommates.

Q: Do you have any specific formatting requirements?

A: Other than what’s listed above, no. You can use whatever typeface or point size you like, as long as it looks professional and is easy to read. No glitter, weird colors, blinking text, etc.

Q: Are the scholarships open to anyone?

A: Provided you meet the basic qualifications, yes. We welcome writers from any country anywhere in the world, though remember that a) the classes will be taught in English, and b) the scholarships only cover $500 of travel, so anything beyond that you will need to cover yourself.

Q: But what if I’m already published?

A: Apply anyway. The way this industry works, it’s entirely possible to be published and talented and still poor and unsuccessful (spoiler warning). The things you learn and the contacts you make on our retreat can still help in that situation, and we’re not going to disqualify anyone just because their first break wasn’t a smashing success.

Q: But that doesn’t sound fair to the rest of us.

A: You’re competing against all of these people in the real world anyway, every time you submit a book or story for publication, and this is no different. Your writing has to be the very best it can be no matter what you’re trying to do with it. We’re confident that you are up to the challenge, so do your best and knock our socks off. We believe in you!

Q: Ah, but what if I know one of you personally? THAT’s got to disqualify me, right?

A: Not at all, though it does change the way we read and rank the applications. As soon as one of our judges realizes that they know an applicant in real life, they pull themselves off of that application and send it back to us. We strip that application of identifying info and send it out to new judges, completely blind, to get their unbiased opinion. The final decisions are made by people who do not know who the applicants are. We take this seriously, and strive to keep the process as fair and balanced as possible.

Q: Okay, can you remind me of the basic qualifications again?

A: The Out of Excuses scholarships: if you can’t afford the scholarship on your own, you qualify. The writer of color scholarships: if you’re a person of color who writes, you qualify.

Q: What about kids? Can I win the scholarship as a teenager?

A: Teens are welcome on the cruise and in the classes, but will need to be accompanied by an adult (who will have to pay their own way, as the scholarship only covers one person). If you have questions, please contact Dawn at writingxcuses@gmail.com.

Q: The description of the scholarship says it comes with a “shared occupancy room.” What does that mean?

A: On the cruise, you’ll have a roommate; in Bear Lake, you might share a room with four or five other people. If you know someone else on the retreat, you can let us know and we can probably put you together, but otherwise the assignments are made at random, and you will make a new best friend.

Q: How can I contribute to the scholarship fund?

A: The easiest way is through our Patreon. We have a pledge level specifically designed for scholarship donations, and of course you are always allowed to pledge more than the recommended minimum.

Q: If I apply for the scholarship and don’t get picked, will there still be time to buy a ticket?

A: We discourage this for two reasons: first of all, no, there might not be time to buy a ticket. Some years we sell out incredibly quickly, and people who wait often end up out of luck. We always try to get more rooms on the cruise, but it’s not always possible. 

Second of all, if you can afford to just buy a ticket, go ahead and buy a ticket, so we can give the scholarship to someone who can’t. That said, we recognize that there’s a difference between “I can afford this no problem” and “I can afford this but it will be a very painful sacrifice.” If you’re among the latter, you are welcome to try for the scholarship first and buy a ticket later if you don’t get picked; we will not look down on you at all, and we’ll do everything we can to make the retreat worth it.

Q: I sent in my application, but I’m not sure it arrived and/or I got an automated response saying it was too late and/or something else happened and I want to be sure we’re cool. What do I do?

A: Email Dawn at writingxcuses@gmail.com. She can look through the inbox and tell you for sure whether your application arrived safely.

Q: I have a question not covered in this FAQ. Who do I reach out to?

A: Email Dawn at writingxcuses@gmail.com. If you post the question online (whether here or on Facebook or on Patreon or wherever), there is no guarantee that we will see and answer it quickly.

18.06: An Interview With Howard Tayler

Your Hosts: Mary Robinette Kowal, DongWon Song, Erin Roberts, Dan Wells, and Howard Tayler

In this episode we interview Howard Tayler, one of the founding members of the podcast, and the creator of Schlock Mercenary. The first question: how did this twenty-year ride change you? And a later question: what comes next?

Liner Notes: We’ll eventually do a deep dive on the final three books of the Schlock Mercenary saga. You can read for free starting here.

Credits: This episode was recorded by Marshall Carr, Jr., and mastered by Alex Jackson


Take an index card for each key beat in a scene you’ve written. Illustrate each beat with stick figures and smiley/frowny/angry faces.

Schlock Mercenary: Mandatory Failure, Function of Firepower, and Sergeant in Motion (the three final books available online), by Howard Tayler, colored by Travis Walton

18.05: An Interview with Mary Robinette Kowal

Your Hosts: Mary Robinette Kowal, DongWon Song, Erin Roberts, Dan Wells, and Howard Tayler

In this episode Howard Tayler conducts our interview with Mary Robinette Kowal, leading with a wide-open question: “Where did you even?” Mary Robinette talks to us about how she came to the world of writing, and some of the amazing things she picked up along the way.

Credits: This episode was recorded by Marshall Carr, Jr., and mastered by Alex Jackson


Think about the skills your non-writing life has given you. What are those lenses, what is the toolset, and how might it apply to your writing.

The Monsters We Defy, by Leslye Penelope

Registration is open for the next Writing Excuses workshop

The Writing Excuses Master class and retreat. It's a writing workshop... on horseback? with Mary Robinette Kowal and Dan Wells | Bear Lake, Utah May 8th-13th

Attention writers! Registration is now open for the Writing Excuses Horse Retreat at Bear Lake aka “Riding Excuses.”This four-day workshop, led by bestselling authors Dan Wells and Mary Robinette Kowal, is designed to help you improve your writing skills and take your craft to the next level.

In addition to participating in writing exercises and workshops with Dan and Mary Robinette, you’ll also have the opportunity to work with horses as a way to explore and enhance your creative process. The horse component of the retreat is facilitated by experienced professionals and is suitable for all levels of experience, including those with no prior horse experience.

Dan Wells is the author of the popular John Cleaver series and a Bram Stoker award-winning author. Mary Robinette Kowal is a Hugo and Nebula award-winning author and an audiobook narrator. Together, they bring a wealth of experience and expertise to the retreat. Both Dan and Mary Robinette are also two of the hosts of the Writing Excuses podcast, a fast-paced, informative, and entertaining look at the craft of writing.

Held at the beautiful Bear Lake, this retreat offers a chance to get away from distractions and focus on your writing in a supportive and inspiring environment. You’ll also have the opportunity to receive feedback on your work and network with other writers.

The retreat is open to writers of all levels, from beginners to experienced professionals. Don’t miss this chance to improve your skills, try something new, and make progress on your writing goals.

Register now

We look forward to seeing you at the Riding Excuses Horse Retreat!

18.04: An Interview With Dan Wells

Your Hosts: Mary Robinette Kowal, DongWon Song, Erin Roberts, Dan Wells, and Howard Tayler

In this episode Erin Roberts very enthusiastically launches our interview with “OG” Dan Wells with a delightfully difficult question, paraphrased thusly: “is there advice you gave back in the early days that you still stand by today?”

There are lots of other questions, including one about bacon!

Credits: This episode was recorded by Marshall Carr, Jr., and mastered by Alex Jackson


Take a scene from a piece you’re working on and strip out all narration and description. Then adjust the dialogue so that the scene still makes sense.

Moonbreaker, a game from Unknown Worlds, with audio scripts by Dan Wells

18.03: An Interview With Erin Roberts

Your Hosts: Mary Robinette Kowal, DongWon Song, Erin Roberts, Dan Wells, and Howard Tayler

As we announced in the first episode of the year (and in this press release),  DongWon Song and Erin Roberts are joining us as permanent cast members. Today we’re conducting an interview with Erin Roberts. She is newer to career writing than any of the rest of us, but her contributions to Writing Excuses have already been invaluable.  In this episode we’ll learn a bit more about why, and about what Erin will bring to the program going forward.

Credits: This episode was recorded by Marshall Carr, Jr., and mastered by Alex Jackson


Think about what has brought you to where you are right now. Write down three things that you carry with you, and that you bring to the pages you create.

18.02: An Interview with DongWon Song

Your Hosts: Mary Robinette Kowal, DongWon Song, Erin Roberts, Dan Wells, and Howard Tayler

As we announced in last week’s episode (and in this press release),  DongWon Song and Erin Roberts are joining us as permanent cast members. In this episode we conduct an interview with DongWon Song, plumbing a few depths, and learning a bit more about what they can teach all of us.

Liner Notes: DongWon Song’s newsletter, Publishing is Hard, can be found at publishingishard.com. It’s free, but paid subscriptions are available.

Credits: This episode was recorded by Marshall Carr, Jr., and mastered by Alex Jackson


Make a list of 5 literary agents.

The Daughters of Izdihar, by Hadeer Elsbai

Writing Excuses – Job Description – Freelance Podcast Producer

Hello, long-time listeners. We’re ready to level up the podcast and to that end, we are looking for a producer.

Who We Are:
Writing Excuses is a fast-paced, educational podcast for writers, by writers. It airs weekly. Episodes vary in length from fifteen to twenty-five minutes but are usually less than twenty minutes long.

The goal of the show is to help listeners become better writers. Whether they write for fun or for profit, whether they’re new to the domain or old hands, Writing Excuses has something to offer.

Your Role:
We’re looking for a creative producer who has an interest in teaching the craft of writing AND has the chops to produce a great podcast. You should be well-organized and detail-oriented. You should be able to thrive working independently.

Location: Remote

Position Responsibility:

  • Manage host and staff schedules for tapings, and team meetings
  • Coordinate tapings through the production process
  • Ensure content shelf stays relevant and timely.
  • Delivering final cuts to network partner
  • Coordinating and working with additional staff, including those at our retreat branch and in charge of communications
  • Effectively managing and delegating tasks to a team.

Required Skills, Knowledge, and Abilities:

  • Experience working on a show or podcast
  • Ability to prioritize among competing tasks.
  • High editorial and audio standards.
  • Production experience in digital audio or radio.
  • Resourcefulness and ability to problem-solve.
  • Independence, positive attitude, initiative, and excellent judgment.
  • Strong organizational and communication skills.

$40-$60 per hour with a six-week trial

Time commitment: Part-time and variable. We batch episodes so there will be busy times and lulls. We can work together to adjust the schedule.

Women of color, people with disabilities, and LGBTQ+ are especially encouraged to apply.

Apply by Friday, January 20, midnight PDT. Email: wx@maryrobinettekowal.com Subject line: WX producer application: [your name]